Tuesday, May 25, 2010

He's not in the garden. I've looked. (thoughts on Blixa Bargeld)

Photo courtesy of Ali Kebenek. Thanks, Ali Kebenek

BLIXA Bargeld. In the '80s he was young and skinny and had weird hair, and did strange and interesting things with his band, and as guiarist and sometime second-string singer for Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. Now he is older and podgier and has weird hair and does adverts for German DIY store Hornbach - rather like Paul Weller uttering the phrase "Don't just do it, B&Q it" between Emmerdale and Coronation Street. But yet, still cool. Oh yes, and he's named after a felt tip pen. Fab.

I was first introduced to the wonder of Blixa via the video for The Weeping Song. In itself a rather fab song - "This is The Weeping Song, a song in which to weep..." - Blixa's performance in the video was magnificently overblown. As was his hair. I can't embed the vid here, but here's a link, and below is a live version for those who can't be arsed to cut n paste. It's not as entertaining as the vid, though.

It's a song in which to weep, you know

So, from there, the natural progression was to investigate the works of Einsturzende Neubauten, which on the whole tend towards slightly noisy and scary industrial Krautrock, but also feature some quieter, intriguing and nearly tender moments, such as Sabrina, Blume - recorded in German, English, French and Japanese, each with a different singer - and The Garden, below. All together now, plink, plink, plink...

"You may think that's his narcissism... I'm sure that's his sadness"

Blixa's not just a musician though, you know. He's far more interesting than that. He provided the Mummy's growl in the film The Mummy (and The Mummy Returns, I presume) after a gruelling audition process, and he lives part of the time in Beijing. I think Piney Gir has a song about that, actually...

 Don't spit your gum out on the sidewalk, Blixa, or there will be consequences!

Blixa Bargeld. Crazy name, crazy guy. Gotta love him!

Factor three - X Factor (Danyl Johnson, Olly Murs and Stacey Solomon) review

The X Factor: Danyl Johnson, Olly Murs and Stacey Solomon at Newbury Racecourse, on Saturday, May 22

NEWBURY Racecourse’s summer series of Party in the Paddock post-racing concerts kicked off on Saturday in suitably starry style with performances by three of last year’s most memorable X Factor finalists. And much as I hate to ever admit that Simon Cowell is right, it was runner-up Olly Murs who shone in front of the 13,000 racegoers, making it clear why Cowell awarded him a record contract after he lost out in the X Factor final.

All three singers focussed on the songs for which they are best-remembered from the X Factor, which meant that Murs’ set was a little heavy on Robbie Williams songs, performing both Angels and She’s The One. Like Williams, Murs’ appeal is in his eccentric dance moves and rapport with the audience, but he demonstrated enough charisma of his own to avoid the performance coming across as note-for-note Williams tribute. Let’s hope that his debut single is a better song than that allocated to X Factor winner Joe McElderry, who was given turgid ballad The Climb to grapple with.

While Reading lad Danyl Johnson may not have the starry charisma of Murs, he was the most interesting of the three, as well as attracting a strong local following that saw him bumped up above Murs to headline the bill. Having been over in the USA working on his songwriting, Johnson took the step of showcasing a well-received new song, Beautiful Life, whereas Murs and Solomon kept their forthcoming singles firmly under wraps. Johnson performed with a guitarist, which made a refreshing change from the predictable tracks backing the other two performers, and kept the funk alive with crowd-pleasing performances of Prince’s Purple Rain and Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror. 

While as giggly and entertaining in between songs as she was on the television, Stacey Solomon’s effervescent personality failed to transfer entirely to her live performance, suggesting that not all performers who can face the wrath of the X-Factors fearsome judges and win over millions of television viewers can always sparkle away from the studio lights. Particularly disappointing was her slightly lacklustre performance of Queen’s Who Wants To Live Forever, which had been the highlight of her X Factor “journey”.

With a local singer rumoured to have made it to the boot camp stage of this year’s series, there is a chance that Newbury might be embracing the X Factor wholeheartedly when it returns in the autumn. In the meantime, Party in the Paddock performances by Simply Red on July 9 and Westlife at Ladies’ Day on August 14 should keep punters keen on star-studded musical performances more than happy.

  •   First published in Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, May 27, and at Newbury Today at http://www.newburytoday.co.uk/News/Article.aspx?articleID=13396

Funny to the Max - Andrew Maxwell review

So much interesting information in his head, he has to take measures to make sure it doesn't  pop out of the top

Andrew Maxwell at Arlington Arts on Thursday, May 13

IT was difficult to get the measure of Andrew Maxwell. He declared that his Arlington Arts appearance was one of his strangest gigs to date, but appeared to be fairly at ease in the sparsly-populated auditorium, despite a tardy arrival owing to a major hold-up on the North Circular. Facing a fairly small turn-out the other end some comedians may have seen this as a sign they should turn round and go home, but Maxwell clearly has a try-anything approach to experiences and wouldn’t want to turn down the opportunity to garner a good anecdote.

Once into his flow, it became clear that Maxwell has a head chock full of interesting information, strong opinions and sharp observations, but in parts of the pre-interval warm-up’’, his random thoughts started to verge on a burbling and rather uncomfortable pub conversation. As a result, Maxwell’s joking suggestion that he and the audience give up on the gig and find a pub quiz appeared to be acted on by a few people, who left during the interval.

However, the rest of the show was worth sticking around for, as the second half was more structured, centring around a handful of prepared tales, and better for it as Maxwell’s ability as a storyteller and talent for voices came to the fore. An Irishman himself, Maxwell didn’t shy away from expressing thoughts on other cultures, from Islam to Australia, and demonstrated an experimental approach to throwing his ideas out into the audience, occasionally against his better judgement, I suspect, when it was apparent that they may not be that well-received.

While most comedians who are parents have an amusing story or two to tell about their offspring, Maxwell’s observations on his toddler son and daughter’s differing approaches to tackling the perennial problem of a closed stairgate were spot-on, even if it resulted in the conclusion that women are “born mental”. The opinions he voiced were often controversial but he demonstrated a depth and breadth of knowledge to back up his utterances, and his globetrotting experiences meant that he was able to riff comfortably with the audience on a wide variety of unplanned subjects, such as the Berber link to South Wales, and some jaw-dropping Michael Jackson gossip. Maxwell’s unpredictable approach to stand-up might not be to everyone’s taste, but as a pub quiz team ringer, he should always be in demand.

  • First published in Newbury Weekly News, Thursday, May 20, 2010